Poland by James A. Michener

  Poland is a work of historical fiction. Apart from the well-known actual people, events, and locales that figure in the narrative, all names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to current events or locales, or to living persons, is entirely coincidental.

  2014 Dial Press Trade Paperback Edition

  Copyright © 1983 by James A. Michener

  All rights reserved.

  Published in the United States by Dial Press Trade Paperbacks, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.

  DIAL PRESS and the HOUSE colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.

  Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Random House, an imprint and division of Random House LLC, in 1983.

  eBook ISBN 978-0-8041-5145-0

  Cartography by Jean Paul Tremblay





  Title Page




  The People of Poland

  I. Buk versus Bukowski

  II. From the East

  III. From the West

  IV. From the North

  V. From the South

  VI. The Golden Freedom

  VII. Mazurka

  VIII. Shattered Dreams

  IX. The Terror

  X. Bukowski versus Buk


  Other Books by This Author

  About the Author


  This book is a novel. The three main families—the Counts Lubonski, the petty nobles Bukowski, the peasants Buk—are fictional, as is the village of Bukowo, its two castles, the manor house and its peasants’ cottages. Most of the characters on whom the action of the novel depends are also fictional.

  Because of the importance of the subject matter and the strangeness of Polish history to the average reader, the identification of certain historical characters, settings and incidents may prove helpful.

  Chapter I: Characters, settings and incidents are fictional.

  Chapter II: The Tatars Genghis Khan, Batu Khan and Ogodei are historic, as are Henry the Pious, his mother, Queen Hedwig, and his reluctant general Mieszko the Obese. The siege of Krakow and the Battle of Legnica are historic.

  Chapter III: The Teutonic Knights Hermann von Salza, Ulrich von Jungingen and Kuno von Lichtenstein are historic, as are Queen Jadwiga from Hungary and King Jagiello and Grand Duke Witold of Lithuania. The Battle of Grunwald is faithfully presented.

  Chapter IV: The Swedish king and his ravaging are historic, as are the Polish king Jan Kazimir and his aide Jerzy Lubomirski, and the Transylvanian invader Gyorgy Rakoczy. The sieges of Czestochowa and Zamosc are historic. The Krzyztopor castle existed and was destroyed as depicted and its Ossolinski owners are real, except that the particular members shown here are fictional.

  Chapter V: All the principal military leaders on all sides are historic: King Jan Sobieski of Poland, Duke Charles of Lorraine, Prince Waldeck of the Germans, Kara Mustafa of the Turks. Inside Vienna, Rüdiger von Starhemberg and Hieronim Lubomirski are historic. Sultan Muhammad IV is depicted accurately, as is the great battle for Vienna.

  Chapter VI: Princess Lubomirska and her palace at Lancut are historic, as are the Czartoryskis at Pulawy, the Zamoyskis at Zamosc and the Mniszechs at Dukla. The Granickis and their castle at Radzyn are fictional, as are the particular Mniszechs at the Niedzica castle, which is very real. The Palais Princesse in Warsaw is fictional.

  Chapter VII: Emperor Franz Josef and his mistress Katharina Schratt, who appear briefly, are historic; all else is fictional.

  Chapter VII: The Polish prime minister Ignacy Paderewski and the Russian general Semyon Budenny are historic, as is the crucial Battle of Zamosc, which is not much stressed in most current histories because it involved a Polish-Russian battle in which the Poles won.

  Chapter IX: The three centers of Nazi terror in Lublin—Under the Clock, Zamek Lublin and Majdanek—are historic and are depicted as accurately as data permit, except that the specializations of the various fields at Majdanek varied from time to time. Governor General Hans Frank in Krakow and Oven-Commander Eric Muhsfeldt at Majdanek are historic, but all other characters, Polish or German, are fictional. When I was far into the writing of this chapter, I learned that the rocket experiments at Peenemünde—which I had dealt with in an earlier novel—had been transferred right next door to the imaginary village I had invented for this book. Polygon was very real, as were the expulsions from Zamosc and the Polish retaliation.

  Chapter X: Except for the brief appearances of President Reagan and Pope John Paul II, all characters are fictional, as are the settings and incidents.

  The People of Poland

  During the major part of this narrative the people of Poland were organized in these clearly defined categories.


  Magnates: Owners of vast lands and with many prerogatives, they controlled Poland, with no superior power to discipline them. Ostensibly similar to the great barons of England, they were in fact much more powerful, since they refused to grant consistent allegiance to their king. Because of Poland’s geographical position, they often allied themselves, individually, to foreign powers. Thus the powerful Radziwills often represented Russian interests; the Leszczynskis, French. They could be either extremely conservative (Lubomirskis, Mniszechs) or surprisingly liberal (Czartoryskis, Zamoyskis). But they were invariably pig-headed and in the end destroyed their fatherland. The various Counts Lubonski are fictional.

  King: Originally an inherited title, it became an elected one, the magnates and gentry doing the voting and preferring to grant the crown to someone outside Poland rather than to one of their own, lest he become too strong. The title was not hereditary, and at the death of any king a riotous election ensued, with foreign powers usually participating with nominees favorable to their interests. This curious system provided one superb king (Stefan Batory of Hungary); one pitiful failure (a weak-willed French prince who resigned after three months); two imbecilic nonentities (from Saxony); three reasonably good kings who brought disaster in their wake (the Vasa rulers from Sweden); and occasionally some authentic Polish nobleman who ruled at least as well as the outsiders (Leszczynski, Poniatowski). They also elected one Pole of dynamic power who proved to be a most memorable ruler (Jan Sobieski, hero of Vienna).

  Princes, counts: Poland conferred no titles, but the papacy, the Holy Roman Empire and surrounding countries did, often at a stiff price, so there were princes, dukes and counts, but such titles conferred no power or standing superior to what the magnate enjoyed. Prince Lubomirski and Count Lubonski had no greater standing than tough old Mniszech of Dukla and were sometimes much poorer in worldly goods.

  Minor nobility: Verbally, this category causes trouble. Polish writers use the word gentry, which doesn’t sound quite right in English. European writers use petty nobility, but the adjective has unfortunate connotations. The minor nobility were divided into two groups: those owning land controlling the peasants thereon; and the landless factotums who affiliated themselves with one or another of the magnates. These latter resembled the lesser samurai of Japan, men of good lineage without castles or great estates who survived as hangers-on or as mercenaries. Another useful analogy is with the caballero of Spain, the man with only a horse, a lance and a proud name. The minor nobility provided five functionaries popular in Polish fiction: voivode (powerful governor of a territory); hetman (field marshal of the armies); castellan (governor of a palace and the territory subordinated to it); palatine (palace functionary); starosta (warden or constable). The category includ
es men almost rich and powerful enough to be magnates, and all intervening levels down to the roving rascal with no castle, no money, no village, no peasants, one horse and pride unbounded. The Bukowski family represents the middle levels and is fictional.


  Cardinal, bishop, abbot, monk, friar: Directly linked to Rome, members of this group owned vast estates and whole villages and towns, with all the peasants included. Militantly defensive, they opposed the Orthodox Catholics of Russia, the Protestants of Sweden and Germany, the Jews of their own country and the pagans of the Baltic lands. Toward the famous Uniates of Poland, created by Rome to suborn the Orthodox, they were ambivalent; just as the good Catholics of Spain found it difficult to accept wholeheartedly Jews who converted, Polish Catholics always suspected the turncoat Uniates. In the earliest years of Polish nationalism, the clergy were often the only people in an area who could read and write, and thus they exerted great political pressure, but quickly the magnates and the better nobility educated themselves, often with great sophistication, and then a balance of power developed.


  Merchants: Polish writers use the noun burgher to designate this category. A growing power throughout this entire narrative, owning their own stores and small factories, they resembled the middle class of all Europe.

  Craftsmen: Of considerable skill in Poland, they inhabited the towns, were often owners of their shops, and were governed by their guilds.


  Financiers: Because the Catholic religion commanded its believers not to charge interest, and because Polish knightly tradition forbade its members to engage in business of any kind (an injunction ignored in the case of wheat and lumber), the handling of money became the accepted responsibility of the Jew. Poland was far more liberal in its acceptance of Jews than most of its neighboring countries, so many found refuge there and prospered, but animosities did sometimes flare.


  Small landholder: Although Polish lands were usually held by either the magnates or the crown, clever farmers managed through adroit behavior, or courage in warfare, or service to magnate or king, to sequester small pieces of land on which they made enough profit to acquire other pieces until they became self-sufficient with their own farms, their own horses, their own rude machinery, and in time, hoards of zlotys which they used for the betterment of their families. Often the money was used as a dowry when an especially attractive daughter was married to a penniless member of the minor nobility.

  Peasant: The vast majority of Poles were peasants, like the vast majority of all people in medieval Europe—and down to modern times in eastern European countries like Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Rumania and Hungary. In other countries they were called serfs, esne, villeins, thralls, vassals, muzhiks. They were not exactly slaves, but they belonged to the land, rarely owned their own homes, had to work stated days for their master, could not remove to another village without permission, had no education and not even a remote hope of bettering themselves. However, as in western Europe although at a much later time, Polish peasants did gain certain freedoms, release from ancient impositions and a measure of land ownership.

  Despite this harsh system in which the magnate owned and controlled everything, a kind of rude democracy thrived in Poland, which was always much more liberal than its neighbors. In England only three percent of the population could be classified as nobility; in France, only two percent; but in Poland a full twelve percent were so qualified, which is justification for the Polish use of the designation gentry. And in the towns another ten or twelve percent associated themselves with the nobility, which meant that many citizens had an interest in the government.

  The incredible liberum veto, by which one man in a Seym (parliament) of hundreds could negate and prorogue the entire work of the Seym by merely crying ‘I oppose!’ was a major cause of Poland’s disappearance from the map of Europe, but it was defended as the last refuge upon which a free man (in this case the magnate or his henchman) could rely to defend his freedom. That Poland survived so many fatal reverses was a testimony to its volatile spirit of freedom.


  Buk versus Bukowski

  In a small Polish farm community, during the fall planting season of 1981, events occurred which electrified the world, sending reverberations of magnitude to capitals as diverse as Washington, Peking and especially Moscow.

  This village of Bukowo, 763 souls, stood at the spot where the great river Vistula turns to the north in its stately passage from its birthplace in the Carpathian Mountains at the south to its destiny in the Baltic Sea at the north. In the little settlement there was a stone castle erected in A.D. 914 as a guard against marauders from the east, but this had been destroyed in the early years when those marauders arrived in stupefying force. Each subsequent owner of the village had planned at one time or other either to tear down the ruins or rebuild them, but none had done so because the old castle exercised a spell on all who saw it, and there was a legend among the villagers that so long as their ruined tower stood, they would stand. There must have been some truth to this because there had often been great clamor in Bukowo, but like its doomed tower, it still stood.

  Nearly thirty-six million Poles, of whom eighteen million were of voting age, were controlled by the Communist party of only three million members. This minority had made a symbolic concession right at the start of the present trouble. They agreed to hold the discussions over farm policy in the very village from which the principal protester came, and this was interpreted by all as a sincere gesture of good will, but as Janko Buk, the leader they were trying to placate, said: ‘With the steel strikers giving them so much trouble in Gdansk, they can’t afford to have us on their backs, too.’

  The Communists had chosen this village for several additional reasons. It lay in the heart of a large agricultural district and was thus representative. It was also well removed from any big city whose practiced agitators might try to influence or even disrupt proceedings. And perhaps most important, it was near the recently renovated Bukowski palace, with its seventy rooms available for meetings of whatever size might be required.

  The three names—Buk for the peasant leader of the troubles, Bukowo for his village, and Bukowski for the family which had once owned the palace—obviously stemmed from the same root, the strong word buk signifying beech tree, and this was appropriate because from time past remembering, the vast area east of the river had contained a large forest whose principal trees had been oaks, pines, ash, maples and especially beech, those tall, heavy trees with excellent trunks. Through the centuries foresters had selectively cut these trees, sometimes floating the great trunks all the way to the Baltic for shipment to Hamburg and Antwerp, but all the woodsmen had carefully tended a particularly noble stand of beech that defined the eastern edge of the village. Like the castle which they resembled, the beeches of Bukowo possessed a special grace.

  The great forest of which they formed such a major part had not borne a name until A.D. 888, when the extremely primitive people who lived between it and the river were frightened by a semi-madman who lived amongst them. He claimed that one evening while returning home with a bundle of faggots collected from under the beech trees, he had been accosted by the devil, who wore about his neck long chains which clinked and clanged, and he convinced them, especially the children, that if they listened closely when the devil was afoot, they could hear the rattling chains.

  The dense woods was named the Forest of Szczek in that long-ago year, and everyone agreed that the name was well chosen, for clinking, clanging sounds did often come from this forest, and since in Polish the letter e—if printed with an accent, carries an n sound, the word was pronounced shtchenk, which resembles the sound that a chain clinking would make.

  The villagers protected the ruins of their good-luck castle and tended the beech trees they loved, but they were proudest of their palace. It had been assembled in rambling style over many centuries by the poor Bukowskis, who had be
en little better than peasants themselves although acknowledged as petty nobles, and in grand style by the Bukowskis of 1896, who had stumbled upon a fortune.

  The palace stood on a slight rise overlooking the castle ruins and the Vistula beyond and was a place of real magnificence, the equal of the lesser French châteaux along the Loire. Shaped like a two-story capital U, the open part with its two protruding wings facing west, its long major base faced east, overlooking the village and the forest beyond. It had been heavily damaged in the closing days of World War II during the German defeat and the Russian victory, but its many rooms had been rebuilt in the 1950s and now functioned as a museum, a rest home for Communist party VIPs and a meeting place for major convocations. A good chauffeur could drive from Warsaw in something under four hours and from Krakow in less than three, so that when government officials selected Bukowo as the site for this important conference they knew what they were doing. Anyone who had visited the Bukowski palace once wanted to do so again.

  A major charm of the setting was the village which perched at the edge of the forest. Even before the rude castle had been built or the forest named, a few hovels had collected here, and in the more than a thousand years which had followed, the number had constantly but slowly increased, with the addition of one or two new cottages every fifty years. Improvements came slowly, for the petty nobles who occupied the more permanent buildings that would evolve into the palace cared little about what happened to their peasants. Over a space of eight hundred years no cottage in Bukowo had other than a dirt floor. For nine hundred years none had a chimney, none had windows, and some cottages had passed a hundred years without acquiring a permanent door.

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